After delivering arguably the most riveting practice round in golf history Wednesday – and appearing pain-free while doing so – Tiger Woods has announced that he will play in the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville this week.
That’s good for CBS, good for the Golf Channel and, most importantly, good for golf.
“Yeah, good across the board,” Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay said on The MoJo Show. “I’ve been friends now with Tiger for close to 30 years and have seen him play in just about every type of event possible. I’ve even partnered with him in the Presidents Cup and on the Walker Cup. This (practice round) was one of the most interesting phenomenons that I’ve ever seen that related to Tiger Woods. The atmosphere was amazing. It was like a Sunday round in a lot of PGA Tour events – (only it was) on the first tee on Wednesday afternoon of a practice round. To say the least, I think everybody here in Louisville and in the media is ecstatic and overjoyed that he’s playing.”
Begay, who battled his own back injuries as a player, said there are different types of back pain. There’s the chronic back pain in which you’ll get sore from sitting too long, and then there’s the shooting back pain caused by cysts, pinched nerves and other maladies.
Woods’ issue is more latter than former.
“He kind of knocked his back out of whack,” Begay said. “For those of us that have had that, you can go months and months and months with no problems, and all of a sudden you try to lift the couch that you could lift when you were 21 (but) unfortunately you’re 41 now. (You’re) trying to lift the same couch to move it across the room because your wife’s asked you to, (but) you throw your back out. It’s one of those things where you end up lying on the floor, and then you go to the chiropractor and he pops your back into place and all of a sudden you’re good to go. That’s kind of what happened with Tiger. He got his back worked on, got everything back in alignment and now he’s ready to play in the PGA Championship.”
That’s all well and good, but Woods hasn’t won a major since 2008. How do we explain the electric atmosphere at Wednesday’s practice round? Why does Woods still hold such a magnetic personality? Why are people still so drawn to him?
“They say when Michael Jordan goes to an outing or an event, he still commands a tremendous amount of attention and energy and can kind of elevate the stature of an event just by showing up,” Begay said, making a parallel. “I think there’s two reasons (for Woods). In 1997, when Tiger won the Masters by a record 12 shots, he attracted a lot of non-golf fans, but (they) were sports fans that liked to see people win and liked to see people do well. He attracted those types of people into golf, so he pulled in a whole other demographic of sports fan that wasn’t already following golf.”
And then the infidelity scandal surfaced in 2009.
“Instead of looking for Tiger Woods on the sports page, we could find him on tabloids and different magazines that were more confined to celebrity gossip,” Begay said. “And it pulled in a whole other set of fans – maybe not even sports fans but just people that like following celebrities because of their lifestyle and because of the storyline. I think that’s where we’re at now.”
“There’s a whole section of people that are there to see him succeed and hoping that he does, and there’s a whole section of people that are hoping that he fails and are going to tune in to watch.”
Rory McIlroy is the favorite to win his second PGA Championship in three years, but it would be great for golf if Woods is in contention Sunday. But first, he has to make the cut.
“I think he’s going to play his way into the weekend,” Begay said. “It’s going to come down to hitting a few more fairways and taking advantage of those opportunities when they come up.”